Local communities oppose govt’s land bridge project


The land bridge project, which would link the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea and turn Thailand into a central hub for regional maritime transport, has been in the spotlight over the past few weeks,

with Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin and high-level officials from the Transport Ministry taking advantage of their recent visit to attend the 30th APEC Summit 2023 in San Francisco, to present the project to potential investors in the European Union, Japan, China and East Asia.

Transport Minister Suriya Juangroongruangkit discussed the project’s development plan, which is divided into four phases from 2025 to 2040. It involves selecting private entities through international bidding for a single contract, with a 50-year management agreement, encompassing port development on both sides, expressways, and railways.

Studies indicate that investors would reap financial benefits of no less than 10% over a 24-year period. However, additional development from industries, real estate and related businesses could improve financial returns and shorten the return period.

These efforts to attract investors for the land bridge project have intensified the concerns of residents in the project development areas, who organised an event to scrutinise who really stands to gain or lose from the land bridge project and listed 10 reasons why the project should not be undertaken. Their principal concerns involve the environmental impacts and the actual benefits to be gained from the foreign investments.

The presentation from the southern regional council and network pointed out that the project would involve constructing large ports in Ranong and Chumphon, a dual-track railway project, industrial estates, and petrochemical plants, endeavours that would extract all the local resources while merely catering to the foreign investment groups and a select few politicians and construction contractors.

Ultimately, they said, citizens would have to sacrifice everything for the country’s prosperity and wealth.

The development is scheduled to launch in April with a call for private proposals. Given the public opposition, however, it remains to be seen if the planned Special Economic Zone (SEC) Development Act for the Southern Economic Corridor (SEC), a crucial initial step for the land bridge project, can be completed by December 2024.